There are currently two excellent opportunities for wing shooters to ruffle some feathers — ruffed grouse and Canada geese. Both are worthy prey to pursue; and both will test shotgun skills and nerves.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, approximately 75,000 grouse hunters harvest 150,000 grouse annually. That in itself should tell you how challenging they are. The grouse population has been declining as our forests grow older, and their preferred habitat is declining. However, there are still enough out there for an enjoyable hunt. As a volunteer in a DEC grouse hunting survey, I keep an annual log of all my grouse sightings and kills. And I know that in the 12 times I’ve actually hunted them this year, I already recorded 14 sightings, one of which I harvested. I won’t tell how many I shot at. It’s actually more than twice as many as I saw last year in as many trips.
Those hunters with a bird dog will have the most fun. There’s nothing more enjoyable than trailing along behind a Springer, German Shorthair or any pointer, watching them lockup on an overhanging pine bough. But even without a canine nose to assist, walk-ups are also fun and actually more exciting. When a grouse unexpectedly bursts from cover just inches from your feet, any composure will end up in the throat and your heart will be pounding. Getting a good sight picture after all this kind of action is not the easiest thing to do.
The areas I spend the most time grouse hunting are alongside streams with a dense shoreline cover, berries and moist soil. The one grouse I shot this year was along the edge of a popular Saratoga County trout stream.
Two other areas that should not be overlooked are evergreen patches in hardwoods and alder thickets. The pines can be particularly productive when there’s snow cover, because often in the snow, there’s a grouse trail going under a pine. If there are two hunters, one should always skirt the outside edge of the cover while the other goes through it.
In more open cover, hunters wearing blaze orange hats and vests should walk about 50 to 75 yards parallel to each other and shoot at birds that are only in front or behind. Remember, only shoot when you’re absolutely sure it’s safe to and know what’s beyond the target.
As for sighting in on, leading, and shooting at a grouse, there are two theories. One that’s often recommended for grouse is snap-shooting or shooting fast and often. I think if there is time for three or more fast shots, there should be plenty of time for one good shot. Get your head down on the stock quickly, then swing through the bird and squeeze the trigger. However, we all know the element of surprise does funny things to a hunter’s otherwise good shooting habits.
The last choice for the grouse hunter is the gun. If you have only one small-game shotgun, use it; especially if it has choke tubes. My two choices, and which one leaves the house with me is solely based on how I feel that morning, are a
20-gauge Beretta Blackwing over/under or a 410 Baikal side-by-side. The Beretta has removable choke tubes, the Baikal, fixed chokes somewhere between full and modified. In the Beretta, I use a skeet choke for my first shot and an improved cylinder for the second. Both get the job done and are fun to shoot.
If you’re interested in being a grouse hunting volunteer for DEC, call 402-8883 or go to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/8360.-html.
Still looking for that Christmas goose? There are 22 days left to get it. Canada goose season in the Hudson Valley hunting area opened Dec. 6 and will close Jan. 1.
After a rather slow early Canada goose season in September, the second season action picked up considerably, but now, in this final season, the resident geese are more active and the migrating geese from the north are dropping into our waterways and fields daily, both in the early morning and late afternoon. In fact, my goose-hunting gang has stayed out in the cut corn fields on several occasions and had good shooting throughout the day.
Right now, Canada geese can be found on just about any body of water where they spend the night. Throughout the day, they’ll leave the water and fly to nearby fields to feed. As the seasons have progressed, the geese have become very wary because of continuous hunting pressure, and we found them reluctant to land in our
18-goose decoy setup. They would look, but not land. We tried changing the design of our decoy set, different calling sequences and even relocating our blinds in the field. But nothing worked until we simply added another two dozen super magnum decoys. And now, they’re dropping in much more frequently. The more geese they see
(decoys), the more comfortable they feel to land and feed with them.
There are many opinions as to what the best goose gun is, and all have their merits. If you’re comfortable shooting whatever gun you have, and are successful with it, that’s best. Just be sure it’s rated for steel shot. I used a single-shot 10-gauge for years, but am shooting a 12-gauge Benelli Super Black Eagle II and its 31⁄2-inch magnum shells are every bit as potent as my
10-gauge magnum shells. And I like having three shots, rather than one.
Geese are a lot easier to hit than grouse. You are not shooting through brush, bushes or trees, and the Canada goose is a much bigger and slower target than a ruffed grouse. Usually, you’ll hear geese coming from a long way and have time to get ready .
Remember, for all waterfowl hunting, whether over water or land, it is illegal to shoot lead shot, you must have your gun plugged to hold no more than three shots and there’s a daily bag limit of three.
For full details, including license, regulations information, detailed descriptions/maps of the hunting zones pertaining all the zones with open Canada goose seasons, refer to the NYSDEC’s Waterfowl Hunting Seasons and Regulations 2008-2009.